Apologetics Evangelism Theology

A.S.K 28 – Does Your Religion Depend On Where You Were Born?

This weeks A.S.K question is an oldie but golden – much beloved of atheist fundamentalists who think it is a killer question.  But the answer really is not that difficult if you stop to think about it….its just that few do!

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BIBLE READING: John 1:1-18

TEXT: He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:11-13)

What language do you speak? I suspect the language of your parents! I also suspect that you have many of the tastes, opinions and even mannerisms of your parents. Is that the same for religion? What is known as ‘the geography argument’ certainly at first glance seems to make sense. If you were born in Saudi Arabia you would be Muslim, if you were born in India you will be Hindu, if you were born in America you will be Christian. Therefore religion is just a  matter of culture and where you are born, not a matter of truth or God. So we might as well all be atheists!

Except… Surely the same argument applies to atheists? – if you were born in an atheist country like China then you are more likely to be atheist…or in a secularist country like Sweden you are more likely to be secular humanist. Does that invalidate atheism and secular humanism? The argument also fails because there are people born in Saudi Arabia who do not end up as Muslims, likewise in India there are millions of Muslims and Christians as well as atheists and secular humanists. And I know many Swedish Christians.

It also fails because it presupposes that culture and family are the sole determining factors. It does not allow for people changing their minds, being converted or for the possibility of supernatural conversion. In other words the argument is based upon presuppositions which themselves are not self-evident. It is a circular self-defeating argument.

However, it is clear that religion does depend to a large extent on your culture, your environment, your family and where you are born. But your relationship with God does not. That is the key difference. That is what John chapter one teaches us. Jesus, the light of the world, came as the light to the whole world. He came to his own people (the Jews), but they rejected him. Yet to all who will receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. This means that being a Christian, becoming a child of God, is not primarily dependent on our environment, or place of birth. It is dependent upon hearing about, and responding to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are countries and communities where we are more likely to hear and experience the Gospel. Those who are brought up in such a privileged environment should be thankful and should not abuse their privilege. How can they hear without a preacher? But the great thing about the Gospel is that it has gone into all the world and it is producing fruit all over the world.

The notion that Christianity is primarily a white European religion is a false one. The vast majority of Christians are now in Africa, China and South America. Sometimes being brought up in a nominally Christian society can actually do more harm than good to our spiritual health. What we experience as Christianity is not the real thing at all. It’s a little like getting the flu jag, which gives you enough of the flu to immunize you from getting the real thing.

And lets not forget the Holy Spirit. No one – whatever their upbringing – can even see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above, of the Spirit (John 3). Many people have been brought from death to life who were not born or brought up in a Christian context. I think of a Muslim friend who was brought to faith in Jesus through a dream, a Chinese communist who came to believe through visiting a church, and a Hindu who heard about Jesus from a cult and started to read the Bible for himself. The Gospel will be preached to all the nations and the Spirit of Jesus will not be constrained by our cultures.

CONSIDER: Given that background is such an important part of our lives, why is it not the determining factor for our faith?

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: The Reason for God – Tim Keller

PRAYER: LORD JESUS – you came as the light of the world. To all the people of the world. Help us to receive you, to believe in you. Whatever our upbringing. If we have Christian parents and have grown up in the Christian church, we bless you for that privilege, but we know that that will not save us. So we come to you. If we have heard of you from others, we bless you for those you have sent to tell us and to invite us to become your children. May your gospel and Word flourish and prosper throughout the whole of your world – to the glory of your Name. Amen

Again it has been encouraging to see and get feedback from those who have been helped by A.S.K….like this “Hi David… a wee encouragement for you, I was chatting to a teen yesterday who will be professing his faith this weekend and he mentioned that your book Ask has been really helpful for him. Blessings.

A.S.K 27 – Being a Christian…

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You can order A.S.K from Amazon UK, US or Australia

Or better still go into your local bookshop and order it….there are bulk discounts as well from Ten of Those 

If you have read the book and would like to review it – can I encourage you to do so on Amazon.  The more the merrier….

10 comments

  1. You never disappoint in your thinking, writing, theology. Thank you for pointing the way. And , I’m not putting you up on a pedestal, merely appreciating your God given abilities.

  2. Hi David,

    I met you at the Bible Shots at the Presbyterian Church in Sydney a few weeks ago. Thank you for coming to Australia from Scotland as my own family also did many years ago when I was only 11 year old, and for coming to minster in Australia.
    The time of adjusting to a Christmas in the middle of summer is upon you! We arrived in Australia in December from Scotland and went to Tamworth, and loved Australia, but the Christmas here being back to front and a hot summer instead of winter was hard to get adjusted to, and took many years. May you and your family have a very happy Christmas in a back-to-front Australian climate from what you are used to, and many more to come.
    Both the question and the answer to the difficult question you mention above “a golden oldie” does not go anywhere near deep enough; the much bigger question does not relate only to where you were born, but also to when you were born, and thus to those born before the birth of Christ, or even before any Jew existed.
    There was, has been, no Christian message to preach for most of human history; and if we are accurate, no Christian existed in the whole world before Christ. For most of human history there was no Christ on Calvary to believe in. It is only after Calvary that God’s family both in heaven and earth could know that God loves His created creatures enough to die for all of us, and that God forgives us even while we were/are his enemies and even when the enemies of righteousness and even when issuing curses against God, as was occurring towards Christ at Calvary. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. This was an astounding revelation of divinity, and the divine love and kindness of the eternal God.
    The depth of the love and goodness of God only became fully known and revealed to perhaps the whole universe at Calvary, not only to this earth, and not before this; and perhaps also the full seriousness of sin became known of the first time, and where it eventually leads, in that it would reach out to kill the Creator God of love, – if it could.
    The whole of Romans 5 and verse 5:18 contains answers to many world-wide questions, and broadens the significance of Calvary to beyond the effects of Adam’s sin, indicating that the world is included, and before any preachers come with any message. However, how privileged are those who hear and believe, and indeed no one can hear without a messenger as Paul the Apostle says. But for most of human history there has been no message of Christ and no Christ to believe in and therefore no preachers to preach “believe n Christ”. Calvary’s breadth answers this significant question as espoused by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5. (Calvary covering all mankind before belief does not necessitate universalism, but it answers many difficult and big valid “golden oldie” questions.
    That there is no prayer anywhere in the Old Testament where a follower of God prayed: “God send your Son to die for my sins, and the sins of the world” is worth of contemplation, in that it show that no one could anticipate such a gift from God. IT may be that even the angels of heaven did not anticipate such a gift of love, and were silent as Calvary unfolded and heard those words from Christ’s lips: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
    As we enter Christmas and then Easter, God has caused us all to be living in a loved, died for and forgiven world, and this applies to all those who were/are not able to hear the good news because born at the “wrong time” or in the “wrong place”, to those mentally retarded and others who have been abused and mistreated so as not to be able to believe in a God of love.
    Big questions have big answers, because there is a God bigger than the universe. “The love of God is broader than the measure (size) of man’s mind” says the old hymn, and so is salvation and healing for this world of troubles and sorrows. Christmas is Christ given to the whole world for all of human history.

  3. “The notion that Christianity is primarily a white European religion is a false one. The vast majority of Christians are now in Africa, China and South America. ”
    And don’t let us forget where Christianity started. Nor the fact that until the rise of Islam most of the Middle East and North Africa was Christian.

  4. It also fails because it presupposes that culture and family are the sole determining factors.

    Wrong. It most certainty is the primary determining factor.

    In actual fact the original cause is because of the spread of the religion through believers and then missionary work, especially in countries such as Africa and South America.
    I love this quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu, don’t you?

    When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray. ‘ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

    Historically, being a patriarchal religion, when the head of the household adopted a religion the other members – including slaves and servants generally followed suit.Christianity was no different in this regard, especially when adopted by Roman citizens.

    You illustrated this point perfectly with your quote: The Gospel will be preached to all the nations and the Spirit of Jesus will not be constrained by our cultures.

    The effects from a lack of proselytizing are clearly evidence within the Jewish religion.

    Refrain from indoctrinating children with any religion or withholding missionaries for a single generation and the shift to secular humanism will be dramatic.

    Regards
    Ark.

    1. I realise that you only want our children to be indoctrinated with your worldview…but we won’t let that happen. We don’t want people to end up with the kind of ahistorical, irrational nonsense that you regularly evidence on here. Eg Tutu’s soundbite is demonstrably false – but the truth or otherwise of it does not bother you….you will do as you always do – move on to yet another accusation, when that one is answered….

      1. If I have any sort of worldview it is probably best expressed in this fashion.

        Secular humanism is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

        As for …. ”but we won’t let that happen.” I don’t you will have any meaningful say in the matter, David as history is already unfolding and our species will eventually reject the type of superstitious beliefs that encompass the religious worldview.

      2. Yes – I get the threat in your comments. Historically its what always happens when atheist fundamentalists get into power. They don’t allow others any meaningful say….

  5. STM that the basic point is, that regardless of all the human determining factors, the reason people turn to Christ, the grace of God.

    The human and other social factors are most certainly important in forming cultures and individuals, and external expressions of religion – but, they are not the *most basic* reason people turn to Christ, The Grace of God is.

    From a Christian POV, God is the God of *all* the creation – of dinosaurs, galaxies, angels, anti-theists, Sikhs & Buddhists, as really as of Christians. Everything, always, in all respects, is totally subject to God’s Providence and Kingly Purpose. This includes what is commonly called luck, and it includes all evils of all kinds, bar none. Each and all of these is entirely known to, and governed by, God. God’s Sovereign Dominion over all creatures is boundless, irresistible, and good.

    So people’s social circumstances, that incline them to be Christians, animists, Hindus or atheists are in every detail governed by God. So is every tiniest circumstance that forms the culture that forms them. Man can no more de-throne God the Lord of all creation, than a shadow can abolish the one who casts it.

    Despite rumours to the contrary, the God Whom Christians serve is not only great – He is a God Whose Greatness is unfathomably great and endless, in comparison with Whom all possible or actual universes are nothing, & less than nothing.

    When a Muslim like the late Nabeel Qureshi turns to Christ, it is partly because God has influenced his pre-Christian life & circumstances, to prepare him to follow God’s grace and be converted to Christ. God is not thwarted by Islam, but works in and through it to fulfil His purpose, regardless of what Muslims may intend.

    When Plato, a pre-Christian Gentile, had his idea of the Crucified Just Man in the “Republic”, that can be seen as the Grace of God working in that culture to prepare the Greeks for the Good News of the Real, God-sent, Crucified Just Man, Jesus Christ.

    The age of the Earth, and the countlessness of all stars and planets, are no obstacle to faith in God’s Providential rule over all creation; their vastness is a “theatre of God’s Glory”, that displays His Infinite Power, Wisdom & Love. So great & wonderful a universe is a witness to the far greater & more wonderful God Who created and governs it. If aliens exist on some far planet forever unknowable to man, God is their Creator & Lord as truly as He is ours – whether they acknowledge God, or not.

  6. If you persist in believing geography and culture have little or nothing to do with one’s religious beliefs or point of reference you should listen to the podcast, Twinning, with the Macalpine brothers .

    The relevant points begin around the 7;30 minute mark.
    For example:
    ”Were you both believers?”
    David. ”Absolutely. There wasn’t even another conceptual framework for the world ….”
    ”I think for most people on the planet, there’s not another conceptual framework for the world that their exposed to that actually takes them out of where they currently are…
    ”We wouldn’t question it …”

    Stephen: ”Religion is a home game …”

    Stephen ”Becoming one (a Christian) is easy in that sort of community setting …. it’s the natural default.”

  7. The Sakyamuni Buddha was an Aryan princeling but his message , alive and well thousands of miles from his birthplace , is venerated by people who do not share his racial background, e.g. , around 34% of Japanese identify as Buddhists.

    The reason that the generality of any given population changes Religion is usually because the King has decided so to do.

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